COVID-19 upends election planning; Fulton polling places drop out
This is an election like no other, says Fulton’s election director, Rick Barron.
By Maggie Lee
Fulton County’s election director says his office has processed more than 127,000 absentee ballot applications, catching up with all that had arrived in its inboxes by Wednesday morning.
But the office is fighting several more COVID-19-fueled fires.
Fulton Election Director Rick Barron told reporters Wednesday that ballots are en route and voters can check and see when their ballot was mailed by going to the state’s My Voter Page website.
But if that state page doesn’t show a ballot issue date, Barron asked folks to please call his office at 404-612-7060.
And for voters who are afraid the mail may take too long, the county has set up 20 ballot drop box locations for turning in those ballots.
Some voters are nervous enough that they’re giving up on mail voting and going to early voting locations.
And due to voter demand, the county is opening up more early voting locations and extending hours.
Voting location information is changing, and the best place to get the latest is via Fulton County’s website.
But on Wednesday the county added Wolf Creek Library to its list of five other early voting locations. And starting next week, instead of closing at 4:30, the locations will close at 7 p.m.
As for June 9 Election Day, Fulton had planned to have 198 polling places open. But some usual polling places, like churches or senior housing towers, are closed for COVID-19 anyway or don’t want to open their doors to strangers during a pandemic. So the number of Election day polling places is down to 165.
“I don’t like to change polling places at all,” Barron said.
Barron said his office will be putting people and signs at the usual polling places on June 9 to direct voters to new locations. The office is also sending letters to affected voters.
But he’s got to staff all those places too. Normally older folks are a big part of any county’s polling place workforce and many make a tradition of it, bringing years of knowledge on running polling places. But this year, many older folks are preferring to keep social distance so staffing polling places has been a challenge. Barron said Fulton is OK for Election Day staff, which would be about 1,050 poll workers. But they’re also recruiting backup personnel.
This is a completely different election than anything the county has run before, Barron said and it’s split the election office’s resources. In 2016, only 947 absentee ballot applications came in for the general primary — compared to 127,000 for this primary, so far. The 32,000 completed ballots that have already arrived are also an unprecedented number.
“We still have to do Election Day, we still have to do early voting. But on top of that, we’ve added this absentee by mail, and so it’s almost as though we’ve added a different type of an election on top of the one that we’re already running,” he said.